Hockenberry Back, Appointed To F.C. Planning Commission

She Rebounds From Loss in Council Race

The Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission have been at loggerheads for a long time. This week, a leading Council member took the opportunity of her electoral defeat this May to hop over into the Planning Commission’s lair.

By a 5-1 vote, the F.C. City Council appointed former Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry to the City’s Planning Commission Monday night.

Hockenberry, who was defeated by a narrow 39-vote margin in a bid for a third term on the City Council in May, fills an unexpired term on the Planning Commission that will run through the end of 2009. The vacancy was created when Commission Rob Puentes resigned earlier this year.

Hockenberry and the Planning Commissioners she’s joining haven’t agreed on much over her eight years on the City Council. This year, alone, the Planning Commission has given thumbs down to three large scale development projects, two of whom the City Council, with Hockenberry’s leadership as vice mayor, approved unanimously, and a third it is expected to approve next month.

Hockenberry is a long-time Falls Church City resident who has taught over 30 years in the City school system. After a brief hiatus, she resumed full-time teaching at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School last fall.

With Councilman David Snyder absent, the only vote against Hockenberry came from new Council member Nader Baroukh, who had earlier failed to nominate an alternative choice, Bernadette Adams Yates, because he could not get a second to his motion.

Current Vice Mayor Hal Lippman and Councilman Lawrence Webb constitutes the Council’s appointments committee that interviewed Hockenberry, Yates and Yates’ husband, Nigel Yates, as applicants for the job. Lippman and Webb recommended Hockenberry for the appointment.

Lippman explained that a potential conflict arising from Hockenberry’s being compensated for work involving the City within a year of leaving the Council was resolved, in consultation with City Attorney John Foster. Hockenberry agreed not to receive any compensation for her Planning Commission work.

But while Baroukh said he was “concerned with the legal issues,” he said his “no” vote was nonetheless based on his preference for Yates.

Councilman Dan Maller chimed in, saying “Nobody is more qualified to be on the Planning Commission than Lindy Hockenberry.

Hockenberry vowed to maintain her involvement in the affairs of the City after formally leaving the City Council on July 1, tossing her hat in the ring for the Planning Commission slot almost immediately.

While there were reports of considerable behind-the-scenes opposition to her appointment, including from opponents to development projects that she voted to approve while on the Council, nothing of that nature surfaced publicly at Monday’s meeting.

The Falls Church Planning Commission has a long history of being at odds with the City Council, even though its members are Council appointees. This has been true especially over the Council’s last decade of pushing for new mixed-use development in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors.

Hockenberry was a staunch supporter of the many projects that were approved since her original election to the City Council in 2000, which will put her at odds with some on the Planning Commission who have opposed most of them in its advisory role to the Council.

However, the Planning Commission could be due for a major overhaul later this year, as the terms for three of its seven members are set to expire on Dec. 31. It is not yet known who among those with expiring terms will seek re-appointment, but even if they do, it is no guarantee the Council will re-appoint them.

Still, despite disagreements with the Planning Commission, Council members have always expressed appreciation for the commissioners’ work.

This year, in fact, the commission has recommended against all three major mixed-use projects brought before it, including the $317 million Atlantic Realty City Center South project, the Hilton Garden Inn in the 700 block of West Broad, and most recently the City Center South Apartments affordable housing plan.

The City Council turned around to cast unanimous votes in favor of the City Center and Hilton Garden Inn plans, and is expected to approve the affordable housing project, with that vote due Aug. 11.

Hockenberry was due to be officially sworn in this Tuesday, and will participate in her first Planning Commission meeting next Monday.

In other appointments made by the Council Monday, Patrick Riccards was named to the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia, Gary LaPorta was re-appointed to the Towing Advisory Board, Paul Emmons was re-appointed to the Architectural Advisory Board, Elizabeth Moore was re-appointed to the Private School and Day Care Facility Board and Bradley Gernand was re-appointed to the Library Board of Trustees.